Theologically what is the difference between self-confidence and pride?
God does gift individuals. And it is good to acknowledge that truth. The manager in Jesus’ parable that invested his talents and earned a good return for the owner had to have a type of confidence (Matt. 25:14-30).
Further, God created us as a “work of art” to carry out the good deeds and mission He wants us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10). So, in a sense, we can have confidence in the self that God intended us to be. Therefore, self-confidence is not in itself bad.
Of course, these truths need to be balanced by the humbling reality that we are sinners and that every good thing we have is a gift. What do we have that we did not receive (1 Cor. 4:7)? And we should always recall that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). It’s not innately ours.
Self-confidence can mean prideful evaluation of one’s ability. It does not, I don’t think, have to be understood that way though. It could mean something like: confidence in who God made you to be and in your God-given abilities. If understood that way, perhaps “God-confidence” or “God-acknowledgment” would be better.
Either way, it does not seem to me that self-confidence is inherently bad. I also think considering the opposite term can be helpful to consider: “self-skepticism” or “self-suspicion.” The Bible does say that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). So, does “self-skepticism” better describe what the view of ourselves should be?
I don’t think so. I don’t think self-confidence or self-skepticism gives us the whole picture. And if left with just one of them or even a balance of both of them together, we still miss something huge! We miss our self in relation to God.
If we consider ourselves without relation to or thought of God, we’re going to get it wrong. We’ll error on either over-confidence or over-suspicion about our self. Yet, when we consider ourselves with reference to what God can and does do, we can be confident in who He has made us to be. While at the same time not obsessing about our self, because we’re focused on Him. We can have a healthy suspicion of our self but that’s not crushing. Because we know that God can and does overcome our sin.
“Pride,” at least how I think about it, has to do with what one has done. In my mind, it means someone is proud of what they themselves have accomplished. Pride is less an evaluation of one’s ability and more so a belief that’s one’s ability is simply a result of one’s own efforts. There’s no grace in pride, given or received; all is earned.
So, with pride, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of who humans are and who God is. God is the giver we, as humans, are receivers. God is, and we are contingent. Pride is a foolish misunderstanding of ontology. God is independent, humans are dependent.
Notice, King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled after he praised himself and all he thought he himself had accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar found out that God humbles those who walk in pride (Dan. 4:37). When pride comes, then comes disgrace (Prov. 11:2).
We should, however, understand that there is a difference between “pride” and “pleasure.” King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just take pleasure in his kingdom and in all that God had entrusted to him, he took pride in it. That is, he acted as if he was responsible for it all himself. He exalted himself and failed to exalt God.
I believe it is good to take pleasure in the abilities God has given us—whether preaching, building cabinets, or whatever. In a movie about Eric Liddel, a Christian Olympic runner, he says, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in what God has given us to do. But, notice an important point: Liddel said, “God made me fast.” Liddel acknowledged God even in his abilities.
But wait, didn’t Liddel run? Didn’t Liddel sweat? Didn’t Liddel sacrifice? He showed amazing discipline to be an Olympic runner, right? Yes. And every good gift is from God. Including Liddel’s ability to do each of those things and also his ability to breathe and his very existence was from God.
So, I believe one could evaluate themself as very good at what they do and that it required a lot of work on their part to become effective, without being prideful. How so? They acknowledge that it is all a gift. Discipline—a gift. Breathing—a gift. Etc.—a gift.
Perhaps the fundamental difference between “pride” and “self-confidence” as we are considering the terms is this: One is an exaltation of self without reference to God, the other can be confidence in God with reference to who He has made you to be.
The apostle Paul had a sort of confidence—we see it demonstrated through his letters and missionary work—but he also said it was not him but Christ in him (Gal. 2:20). Paul, after He met and was radically transformed by Christ, was not so much confident in himself as what God was able to do through him, though he was a mere disposable jar of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).
So, I believe it is right and good to have a kind of self-confidence in who God has made us to be even while we work at killing pride.
*Photo by Nicolas I.
The last thing Christians should be is puffed up with pride. Below are four points to pop pride.
Pride is damaging and is at the heart of what damned the devil himself. We would be wise to destroy pride before it destroys us (Prov. 16:18).
1. Group Connection
Pride protects us from the penetrating eye of others, at least, until it is too late. To kill pride we must let at least a select group pry; pry into our lives and our inner motivations. We must let them lovingly dive-in and help dig out roots of sin that we can’t see because the seed hasn’t yet sprouted and blossomed its poisonous plume (see 1 Tim. 5:24; Heb. 12:15).
When I drive with my wife you can often hear me say, “Clear right?!” As soon as she says, “Clear!” I’m making that lefthand turn. I’m squealing the tires (in our minivan…).
I ask her because I can’t see what’s coming. And I know that blind spots can cause big problems. So, I need her help.
Blind spots are no less dangerous on the road of life. We need each other to see what we don’t see ourselves. What’s going on in our own hearts is hard to truly understand. We need wise brothers and sisters to help us discern what’s going on (cf. Prov. 20:5).
Connection in an honest and loving community is vital for health. We need spiritual wellness exams. We want to kill cancerous sin before it grows and brings forth death (cf. James 1:15). We need to be sharpened (Prov. 27:17) and we need the occasional friction of rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2).
Like a horse, we need a goad to guide us to good works (Heb. 10:24-25). Like a rope, we need to be interlaced with others to be strong (Eccl. 4:12). Like a general, we need counsel to wage war wisely (Prov. 24:6).
Ironically, if we’re going to pop pride, we need people in our bubble.
2. Gifts are a Gift
Gifts are given. They are not deserved. If we have a gift, it’s because we received it. We didn’t own it on our own. Therefore, we shouldn’t boast as if we did not receive it (1 Cor. 4:7). And no matter what we have—strength or smarts, artistry or arithmetic, wealth or wisdom—it’s all a gift given by God (Jn. 3:27; James 1:17).
And gifts are given, not for our own good, but for the good of others (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor. 12:7). Gifts are given with an understanding from God that there will be a return on His investment. It is required of servants that they be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). But, that is nothing out of the ordinary. A servant is supposed to be faithful (Lk. 17:10).
If they are a servant with more gifts entrusted to their care, they are just being faithful with what God has given them, which is really not much different than the other servants. Except that they may go through more pain and have more of a demand on their life.
Also, it should be remembered that no body part, whatever that body part is and how gifted it is, functions on its own. In the same way, the quarterback may lead the team but he’s not the only one on the team. If he were, he would be crushed.
We all have different parts to play in the body (1 Cor. 12:12-31). The different parts have different roles, different gifts, as God assigned. But, notice, it is God that arranged and appointed it that way (v. 18, 28). It is not as if anyone earned their particular gift or role in the body.
So, since gifts are given they should never be a cause of pride.
3. Given Identity
The Bible teaches us that we don’t earn an identity, we are given an identity. Anyone in Christ, for example, is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). That is who they are. They are new. They are an adopted son or daughter of God (Eph. 1:5).
“Ministry leadership identity produces fear and anxiety and will never produce the humility and courage that come with identity in Christ. Looking horizontally, as a leader, for your identity, meaning, purpose, and internal sense of well-being asks people, places, and position to do for you what only your Messiah can do.”
We don’t boast in who we are, we boast in the Lord (Jer. 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 1:31)! Therefore, we don’t falter when we fail and we don’t overly seethe with success. And we don’t compare ourselves with others because we’re not looking for commendation from others (2 Cor. 2:12, 17-18). We’re looking for a smile on our Father’s face, even if it brings a frown from others (Matt. 25:21; Rom. 2:29; 1 Cor. 4:5).
So, we rest in our God-given identity—who we are in Christ—and not in any merely earthly identity.
4. God’s Glory
Everything we have, we have been given. And everything we have been given is to be given back to God in the form of praise. All we do is to be to His praise and glory, even when we eat (1 Cor. 10:31).
Everything is about Him, it is the height of folly and stupidity when we make it about us. That’s worse than an ant that thinks it deserves praise for moving a speck of sand. The ant is nothing and its work is nothing compared to the might and majesty of God. To think that God would owe us is worse still (see Job 35:7; 41:11; Rom. 11:35)!
All things are about Him (Col. 1:16) and the fact that He chooses to use mere humans only highlights His glory (2 Cor. 4:7 cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10).
So, we pop pride when we see that it’s all about God and His glory.
 The success of the body rests on the individual parts of the body and not on any one part on its own, no matter how gifted that part is. Tom Brady knows this. He gave up millions so that the other important parts of the team could get filled up.
*Photo by Hamed darzi
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
When we see gray clouds we know a storm and rain are probably coming. Proverbs leads us to see other connections and correlations from other phenomena and make other important deductions. Just as if we see gray clouds we know rain is coming, if we see pride we know disgrace is coming.
Disgrace follows pride like dessert follows dinner; one comes then the other. Superiority then scandal, self-importance then shame. Disgrace follows pride as surely as two follows one. There’s a sequential relationship. If one is not humble there will be humiliation.
The prideful person, however, may not even see or experience the humiliation though. They may further puff up against the pain rather than confront their inadequacies.
The arrogant are in the dangerous place of not seeing their own ignorance. If we see ourselves as superior, we aren’t in a good place to see our own stupidity. Those who think they stand then should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthian 10:12).
What is the solution? Humility.
We should be willing to admit we are sometimes wrong. We have done wrong and been wrong in the past, we should know that this could (and will) happen in the future too.
Christianity gives a basis for humility. It teaches us repeatedly that we don’t always get it right. And Jesus said, blessed are the humble who know that truth (See Matthew 5:5ff).
Christians should be willing to listen, willing to learn. We should be humble because our Lord Jesus has called us to humility. We don’t know it all and we should admit that truth.
“With the humble is wisdom.” Those who know they don’t know, are in a good place to know. If we realize what we don’t realize, we are open to realizing.
Pride → disgrace.
Humility → wisdom.
 Christian behavior is not based on knowledge alone, that leads to pride and destroys others, even those for whom Christ died; Christian behavior is based on love grounded in the knowledge of Christ. We tend to think we know all we need to know to answer all kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. As Eugene Peterson has said in his paraphrase of the Bible, the Message: “Knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings.” I appreciate what Richard Baxter said, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144). I also appreciate this from Thomas à Kempis: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God” and neighbor?” (The Imitation of Christ).
 Proverbs also tells us repeatedly that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”